Last update: February 2023
[Main COI reference: Security 2022, 2.9, pp. 169-181; COI Update 2022, 2., pp. 3-8]
Deir Ez-Zor governorate is located in eastern Syria. The governorate has an international border with Iraq to the east, and internal borders with Homs to the south, with Raqqa to the west and with Hasaka to the north. The Euphrates River passes through the governorate, dividing it into two parts. Deir Ez-Zor is administratively divided into three districts: Deir Ez-Zor, Al-Mayadin, and Al-Bukamal (alternatively Albu Kamal, Abu Kamal). As of February 2022, UNOCHA estimated the population of Deir Ez-Zor governorate to be of 1 107 720 inhabitants.
Background of the conflict
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Deir Ez-Zor governorate witnessed anti‑government protests. The Arab tribes in the governorate showed a division of affiliation. Some factions joined the SDF, others were aligned with GoS forces, and the rest pledged allegiance to ISIL. The GoS and its allies had captured most of the areas west of the Euphrates River from ISIL by the end of 2017. The SDF and the US-led coalition captured the last ISIL‑held territorial enclave on the eastern side of the river in March 2019. [Security 2021, 2.9]
Actors: control and presence
Deir Ez-Zor governorate was roughly divided into two areas of control. The western part of the governorate, mainly the areas west of the Euphrates River, was controlled by the GoS and its Iranian and Russian allies. This area covers the major cities of Deir Ez-Zor city, al-Mayadin and al-Bukamal, and the logistical route connecting GoS-controlled areas to the Syrian-Iraqi border. The southern part of the GoS-controlled area was ‘increasingly dominated’ by Iranian-backed armed groups associated to the IRGC. Iranian-backed Afghan and Pakistani Shia forces and militias were also present. There was significant Russian presence in the al-Mayadin district and control over areas of Deir Ez-Zor city. The eastern part of the governorate, most of the areas east of the Euphrates River, were controlled by the Kurdish-led SDF. The US-led Coalition against ISIL reinforced its presence on the eastern side of the river.
ISIL in Syria has its centre in the desert, al-Badia, south of the Euphrates River, where militants are brought together and trained prior to being dispatched to Syria or Iraq. Eastern Deir Ez-Zor is described as an ISIL stronghold where the group has an active presence and continued to exert its influence on the local population [Security 2022, 1.4.6, p. 37]. ISIL’s reach in the governorate reportedly increased in 2022.
Nature of violence and examples of incidents
The majority of ISIL attacks and activity in Syria documented during the reference period took place in Deir Ez-Zor governorate. Along with counterterrorism operation in response to ISIL activity, it contributed to a particularly volatile security situation in the governorate. One source noted that, because of the militants’ ability to easily cross SDF- and GoS-controlled areas, security in Deir Ez-Zor governorate in 2021 and 2022 was the same or worse than in 2020.
In April and May 2021, there were numerous killings in the governorate, often attributed to ISIL-activity. For example, unknown gunmen on motor bikes killed a religious official in the GOS-controlled western countryside and two aid-workers were shot and killed in SDF-controlled Busaray by unknown attackers. ISIL also targeted oil fields, both in GoS-and SDF-controlled areas. Ten workers were killed in an IED attack on a transport bus on their way home from Kharata oil field in December 2021.
By the turn of the year 2021/22, a general trend of ISIL gaining ground in Deir Ez-Zor, either by staging attacks on the SDF and civilians, by imposing taxes on the local population or by kidnapping and exacting ransom from people, was observed. ISIL cells reportedly carried out an average of 10 to 15 attacks on GoS forces per month, many of them in rural western Deir Ez-Zor. In the northeast ISIL regularly targeted or killed AANES representatives. ISIL attacks, including against civilians, were also reported in the period August to October 2022.
Counter-terrorism operations against ISIL by the SDF, sometimes together with the US-led Coalition against ISIL, mainly took place in Deir Ez-Zor governorate. In December 2021, such a joint military operation reportedly resulted in both military and civilian causalities. It was noted that SDF-raids backed by US-led Coalition airpower often cause harm to civilians, including wrongful arrests, due to faulty intelligence. Cases of enforced disappearances, kidnapping and civilians being killed were also reported. [Targeting 2022, 3.1, pp. 49-51]
Members of the NDF reportedly clashed with members of Liwa al-Quds in Deir Ez-Zor city during the reference period. In another incident, different factions within the NDF clashed with each other, causing several injuries.
Israeli and US airstrikes, targeting Iranian interest and Iran-affiliate militias near the town of Masyaf as well as along the Syrian-Iraqi border, were also reported.
Protests against the Kurdish authorities erupted on several occasions across SDF-controlled areas during the reference period but were not met with violent crackdown by security forces. In December 2021, protests turned violent in the city of Busayra after reports of mass arrests and alleged executions of local men at the hands of the SDF.
ACLED recorded 1 177 security incidents (average of 16.9 security incidents per week) in Deir Ez-Zor governorate in the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 July 2022. The majority of the reported incidents were coded as ‘battles’ (437), while 402 incidents were coded as ‘violence against civilians’ and 338 as ‘explosions/remote violence’. In the period 1 August – 31 October 2022, 222 security incidents were recorded in Deir Ez-Zor representing an average of 17.6 security incidents per week.
Security incidents were recorded in all districts during the reference period, with significantly higher numbers being documented in Deir Ez-Zor district.
Civilian fatalities: data
The SNHR recorded 142 civilian fatalities in Deir Ez-Zor in the nine months between April and December 2021. In January – October 2022, the SNHR recorded 104 civilian fatalities. This represented nine civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants for the first ten months of 2022.
As of February 2022, the number of IDPs in Deir Ez-Zor governorate was stated to be 39 274.
UNOCHA recorded approximately 1 000 IDP movements from Deir Ez-Zor governorate in 2021, 2 000 IDP movements within the governorate as well as 700 movements to the governorate. In the first six months of 2022, UNOCHA registered 1 510 IDP movements from the governorate, the majority being within the governorate, and 1 564 IDP arrivals to the governorate.
In 2021, approximately 8 000 IDP movements were recorded to the governorate, as well as 3 000 IDP movements within the governate. In the first six months of 2022, 6 673 IDP returns to the governorate were registered by UNOCHA, as well as 4 914 IDP returns within the governorate and 4 927 IDP returns from the governorate.
Further impact on civilians
The physical capital loss of Deir Ez-Zor governorate represents 6.8 % of all the damage inflicted on Syrian physical capital, between 2011–2018.
Deir Ez-Zor is considered one of Syria’s most affected governorates with regard to explosive ordnance contamination. A source reported that between December 2012 and May 2021, 39 951 explosive munitions were deployed in the governorate, resulting in an estimated contamination of between 4000 and 12 000 pieces of unexploded ordnance. From September 2021 to April 2022, 392 deaths and 232 injuries in connection with landmine incidents were reported.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that in the governorate of Deir Ez-Zor, indiscriminate violence reaches such a high level that substantial grounds are shown for believing that a civilian, returned to the governorate, would, solely on account of their presence on its territory, face a real risk of being subject to the serious threat referred to in Article 15(c) QD.